Google Reader and the Missed Opportunity of RSS Feeds

Google Reader is now officially announced dead. Slowly it has been dying for quite a while.

I am one of the apparently very few relics, who have been using Google Reader actively for years and years. Personally it has been the most useful Google tool for me right after search and Gmail. Without using Google Reader (and other digital fossil Del.icio.us, which is still alive but struggling), writing of my first book would have been much more tedious process.

Looking from the business perspective and reflecting the overall downward trend of success of RSS feeds, the decision to kill Google Reader is a no-brainer. Everyone gets their news and blog posts either from search or from social networks, who needs separate place to go for their internet content?

Well us professionals and hobbyist, for instance.

I am passionate about few things. Other half is a work related and others are hobbies (basketball, hip-hop music, literature and movies). Google reader was my starting point for getting my daily fix on those high-interest subjects. Additionally I also use social networks and Google search to find stuff, but for me those are not the primary sources of information. When sharing is the only currency, it will be eventually lead to dumbed down content. Just watch any of the titles of your average web publication.

So farewell RSS feeds, the social media sharing is the way to drive traffic these days.

The demise of RSS Feeds, can be summarized to one word: complicated.
Starting with the name: RSS sounds like some kind of disease. Then there was the ease of use, or lack thereof. Although you did not have to be rocket scientist to get yourself RSS feed reader, it required still more commitment than the normal internet user wants to have with their platforms. The adding of the RSS feeds was not intuitive enough and the logo did not really reach adequate awareness. If following and subscribing would have had button something akin to Facebook like, the situation might be totally different.

Personal blogs have been largely replaced by tweets and Facebook status updates. The promise of RSS Feed Reader is still valid. You get the news you are actively interested to one place. People have not stopped consuming content in the Internet, more the other way around. The way to consume it has shifted more towards social, but there are some users who want to have also more curated experience for their content. Those users are not necessarily lucrative target audience.

Like Rob Fishman points out in his excellent article in Buzzfeed, Google Reader was the closest to functioning social network Google has ever been (excluding maybe for YouTube). I am deliberately excluding Gmail, as the nature of it is more 1-to-1 connections. As the “success” of Google+has shown, building it over Gmail was not necessarily the wisest decision. The mass using Gmail does not necessarily convert to more public sharing of social network, although it might make business sense on the paper. If Google would have invested to Google Reader and pushed it organically towards more social experience, they might have really successful social platform in their hands.

I was actually really active in Google Reader back in the day and sharing content like there was no tomorrow. That lasted until it was connected to Google+, which made it too overbearing. I was not the only one. Google Reader really never got a chance to truly try to strive in the marketplace on its own. Like former Google product manager explains in Quora, the Reader developer team was stretched thin and utilized mostly in other failed projects. Google Reader –based social network would have been the social platform, which is still truly lacking in the marketplace. The social network that is built around your user interests and passions. Maybe the new MySpace is trying to fill that gap, at least with music.

I will not shed tears for Google Reader. The decision makes definite short-term business sense. On the long run however, we will never know. Disappearance of Google Reader might have surprising effects on the digital content ecosystem. Although it has not been major traffic driver for the sites, it might alter and shift the readership radically of certain content providers.

Killing Google Reader and betting with Google+ are probably smart decisions. The real question is, are they wise decisions? Meanwhile Google Reader remains as an artifact of the potential social media success Google is still desperately trying to achieve. Until 1st of July, that is. As I am writing this, I am moving my Google Reader subscriptions to Feedly.

Old habits are hard to kill.

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